Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Backdoor Hiring Freeze ... ??

Further to my comments last week about Weaver Street Market Co-operative increasing sales, but hinting at wanting to put the squeeze on employees, two other anecdotal observations:

1) The most recent Market Messenger reported NO new employees. First time I can remember that since the formal hiring freeze was lifted in early 2010.

2) The word in my department is that the department manager thinks we are ‘heavy’ on hours. Even though our hours have been pretty much unchanged this past year. And certainly they have not increased by the same 10% our Southern Village store sales have.

Now, if you want to know what I think we can do about this, skip to the numbers at the end. Otherwise, stick with me, while I set out what I think is happening, and why it is important that it not be happening.

I have tried mightily to get the WSM corporate office management to discuss with us workers why it is that they have placed so much emphasis on sales growth these past two years. I put the point bluntly to them two years ago.

I wasn’t even allowed the opportunity at this year’s Unit Meeting, when we were told disingenuously that all financial goals were now ‘standard’ – for which read, not open to discussion.

The lack of discussion was a direct breach of our co-op’s policy. Board Policy specifically demands that employees be involved in the making of all major decisions that affect their workplace [Board Policy 2-3 (4)]. It also demands that workers not have imposed on them conditions or decisions that are unsafe, unduly undignified or unnecessarily intrusive – certainly not without discussion.

I do not think it is a stretch to call these continuing, unexplained demands for increased sales an intrusion. Especially when they do not seem to be accompanied by a commensurate increase in staff hours to be able to service the extra work.

A year ago, I began a dispute process (as allowed under Employee Policy 5.1 – you can find that in the Employee Policy Handbook, which is probably serving as the base to your kitty litter). I said that, since the decision that year to increase sales by 15% in 2011 had not involved shopfloor workers, it was in breach of Board Policy 2-3 (4).

I got a one hour meeting with our General Manager. He promised that increasing sales in 2011 would be matched with an increase in staff hours. Hasn’t happened. That is in breach of co-operative values of openness and honesty.

One of the primary features of the feedback from workers in the WSM Employee Survey this past year was that we workers felt we were overworked, understaffed and underpaid. We were promised our grievances would be addressed in action plans.

Frankly, the ‘real’ action plan seems now to be to find new ways to compel us to greater sales, while slipping and sliding our way to a ‘de facto’ hiring and staff hours freeze, without actually telling us why (breach of co-operative values of democracy, openness, transparency and honesty; breach of the corporate office’s own declaration in their Six Point Goal Plan to increase communication).

Of course, the reason the WSM corporate office management won’t actually come out and tell us what’s what is that it would leave them open then to my repeated charge that they continually make major decisions affecting our workplace without including us in the decision-making process.

What can we do?

A) Demand department meetings (of which we were promised more, under WSM's own Six Point Goal Plan), where we can ask our managers why the need for all these increased sales, and if staff hours will match increased sales, as promised.

B) Begin disputes under the Employee Dispute Process (Handbook 5.1). Make the dispute with ‘management’ generally. Say that management is in breach of Board Policy 2-3 (4) for not including workers in decisions about sales goals and staffing levels.

C) Become worker-owners. Stand for the Board of Directors. Vote for a worker-owner Board candidate who actually speaks up for workers at Board meetings. And make sure that, in future, the WSM Board of Directors and its corporate office are always in compliance with the Mission Statement, which requires that workers have a fulfilling work experience.

D) Maybe consider my Six Point Goal Plan.

I know it is difficult to stand up and speak out. But I look across America, and see Occupy every day. I look across the world, and see the Arab Spring. Folks are prepared to risk civil disobedience, in order to make points they know to be valid.

In our co-op, there should not even be the risk. There is no ‘civil disobedience in speaking up. Board Policy 2-3 (3) specifically protects employees against any action brought if employees have been expressing ethical dissent.

Remember this. Power is not given to the people. It is won by them.